The Montreal cultural scene is in full bloom and at it's height is Opera de Montreal's season opening with Eugene Onegin by Tchaikovsky. Low key, when fall arrives, and opera season starts, it's like I come back to life. D'you feel me? I've got some great performances (and some new projects!) lined up this season, but kicking things off with Onegin was just ideal.
If you remember (koodos), I saw Tchaikovsky's opera not even a year ago at the Canadian Opera Company in Toronto. I had prepared for that performance a cheat-sheet - check it out! - so I'll be short on the opera description and dive right into the wonderful performance I saw last Saturday.
It's all very bad timing
There's really only opera that can quite succeed in poorly timed stories that lead to some upright drama and heartbreak. #letsbehonest Eugene Onegin is essentially Pride and Prejudice without the happy ending; here's why.
After Tatyana (Nicole Car) meets Onegin (Etienne Dupuis), she writes to him declaring her love. When he receives her letter, he lectures her on being too upfront with her feelings. He then goes on to seduce her sister Olga (Carolyn Sproule), who's engaged to his best friend Lensky (Owen McCausland). Lensky is insulted (duh!) and challenges Onegin to a duel. Too proud to admit his fault, Onegin kills Lensky and instantly regrets it. Plot twist! A few years later, Onegin meets Tatyana again except now she's moved up in society and married Prince Gremin (Denis Sedov). Now he realizes that he made a mistake years ago, and admits his love for her. She tells him she loves him too but that she'll never break her vows.
This production combines strong cast (mainly Canadian) and beautiful 19th century set designs over Tchaikovsky's emotionally loaded music. Probably in the top five operas I have seen in Montreal, it was hard to only choose a few highlights.
Nicole Car and Etienne Dupuis - Real life vs Opera life
Needless to say that Montreal went completely crazy over the opera couple of the hour! Yep, in the odd event that you didn't know yet, Canadian baritone Etienne Dupuis and Australian soprano Nicole Car are married in real life. They both interpreted the lead roles of the opera magnificently, each bringing their personal touches to the characters.
Nicole's attention to detail, down to her shy nods, makes you empathize so much with what Tatyana is going through. It's like reliving your first love all over again, but from a 3000-seat concert hall. The famous letter scene in Act 1 was a rollercoaster of emotions, from excitement to dread, and pouring love to regret. There was some resemblance to My Fair Lady I could have danced all night that gave me some serious feels.
How amazing is it that the Opera de Montreal could welcome a star like Nicole? Pretty amazing, it's pretty amazing. I am so thrilled to have finally seen her perform live and I very much looking forward to the other opera singers that will soon make their debut in Wilfred-Pelletier Hall of Place des Arts. â
As for Etienne, I think the last time I saw him perform was in The Barber of Seville back in 2014. In just a few years, his voice and stage presence have matured and grown so much leading him to perform in some of the greatest opera houses worldwide. It's incredible to see the evolution singers go through their career! And even if it seems like just a small thing, I cannot not tip my hat to Etienne for falling to the ground in the duel! Makes you go 'Wait, what?' Just a nice simple element of surprise that shows just how much each production and performance is different.
If you loved them as much as I did, or you missed these performances (gasps!), you will be relieved to know that the power couple will be back in Montreal this December to perform with the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal alonside Marie-Nicole Lemieux.
Owen McCausland as Lensky
Kuda, kuda, Lensky's aria in Act 2 is so well known and tenor Owen McCauslanddid not disappoint. Alone on stage, he truly connected with the audience as Lensky recalls his life and love for Olga, dialoguing with the clarinet. For the tenor who did the world premiere last year of Chaakapesh, The Trickster's Quest with the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal last season, this opera marks Owen's debut with the Opera de Montreal.
Spencer Britten as Triquet
All hail Monsieur Triquet! Serving a perfect French pronounciation in an otherwise completely Russian opera, tenor Spencer Britten had this charismatic stage presence and assurance in this role. A current member of the Atelier lyrique de l'Opera de Montreal, he's career already includes impressive highlights including recent performances with the Orchestre de l'Agora and at the Glimmerglass Festival. He's also killing it on the gram so make sure to check that out.
The first opera from Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen I ever saw was the last one, Gotterdammerung, at the Canadian Opera Company. When it comes to this epic series, you try not to be picky about seeing it in the sequential order of the story, and get it while you can. Luckily, since last Saturday, the Opera de Montreal is bringing to life the first opera of the cycle, Das Rheingold.
The shortest opera of the cycle
For Gotterdammerung, I arrived about 45 minutes after the performance began. I had missed my 9 am bus from Montreal to Toronto (I seriously thought it left at 9:30 am....) But that opera lasted over 4 hours with the intermissions, so overall, it wasn't the end of the world. Not so much the case for Das Rheingold. This 2.5-hour long opera has NO intermission. Sounds like the end of the world maybe, but in all honesty, it's pretty much the same length as a movie. And rest assured, the first time I glanced at my watch, 90 minutes had already gone by.
Pro tip: I brought a protein bar (unwrapped! wouldn't want to cause a commotion!) and ate it half way through the performance. Plus, I saw a few patrons walk in the concert hall with their drinks.
This fall, the Canadian Opera Company will present the world premiere of the opera Hadrian by composer Rufus Wainwright and librettist Daniel MacIvor. The latest COC commissioned opera is highly anticipated (the last one goes back to The Golden Ass in 1999!) and will feature noteworthy Canadian artists, notably director Peter Hinton, soprano Ambur Braid, as Hadrian's wife, and tenor Ben Heppner, as Dinarchus. Heppner, host of Saturday Afternoon at the Opera on CBC Music, actually comes out of opera performance retirement for this special occasion! And of course two opera legends, American baritone Thomas Hampson in the title role, and Finnish soprano Karita Mattila as the former empress Plotina, bring international talent to the opera.
For this article, I really wanted to have a fresh look into not only the opera itself, but also into what creating and staging a new opera production entails, and how it contributes to the operatic repertoire. Luckily, a friend of mine, Russell Wustenberg, is working on the production as an Assistant Director, and he agreed to answer some questions that I had!
I first met Russell when he was working on (and singing in!) opera performances by Opera McGill, in Montreal
"I HAVE TRIED MANY POSITIONS IN OPERA, I FIND THAT DIRECTING IS ONE ELEMENT OF BEING AN OPERATIC ARTIST."
If you were to name two ballets, chances are The Nutcracker and Swan Lake would be among the first to come to mind. However, Tchaikovsky did not only write for the ballet, he also composed eleven operas. The Canadian Opera Company will present in the next few weeks Tchaikovsky's most famous opera, Eugene Onegin. Composed in 1877-1878, and premiered in Moscow, the 3 act opera is an example of Russian lyric opera. Before you head to the Four Seasons Centre for Performing Arts, here are a few key features about the production you should know.
In almost every industry, women often find themselves at a disadvantage professionally, whether they face less growth opportunities or overall decreased incomes compared to their male equivalents. And although the debate is hot at the moment, especially in the classical music industry, we can only notice a few minor improvements backstage or on stage.
In opera, this discrepancy is not as noticeable on stage. The common gender bending roles aside, a role for a high voice requires a high voice, which is more often than not, performed by a woman. But what if we look to composers, conductors and instrumentalists? The Metropolitan Opera 2018-2019 season showcases absolutely no female composer or conductor, same goes for Opera de Montreal and Houston Grand Opera (who received funding in 2017 from Opera America for their support for female composers!?!). It's not that women artists should be prioritized over men regardless of quality requirements or that we can't appreciate the numerous talented male musicians, past and present; it's simply that still today, we must give more these women more opportunities to create and perform in order to expose their talent and create role models for the next generation.
The 4th Edition of Festival Stella Musica